I subscribe to the Scientific American newsletter so yesterday morning I read an article entitled “Sperm Count Dropping in Western World.” Within hours, I came across a rebuttal to the article: “Uh…About That Sperm Study”. The rebuttal was persuasive enough that, until more accurate data comes around, I am convinced the SA article was hokum — junk science.
This leaves me disappointed in Scientific American that they could so easily publish so spurious an article. However, I have felt this disappointment many times in the last few months but that is a different story.
It does illustrate the critical importance, indeed the absolute necessity of skepticism in the realm of science. No claim by any scientist, no matter how much data supports it, no matter how many other scientists agree with it, should go unchallenged.
Until the day he died in 2001, Fred Hoyle, a very respected cosmologist, challenged the veracity of the Big Bang Theory. At no time during his life or after, was Hoyle ever called a “Big Bang Denier.” Certainly, no one ever made the claim that Hoyle was “anti-science.” The very idea is ludicrous.
The history of science is filled with popular, well-established ideas being eroded by the challenges of skeptics, not to mention the ideas that were junk science from the very beginning. Alas, the history of science is resplendent with examples of junk or fraudulent science and the charlatans who propagated it.
Thus the skeptic has always (at least in the last century or so) held a respected position in science.
Until “Global Warming.”
I am a skeptic. Yes, that includes global warming. I meet efforts to belittle such a stance with a healthy dose of suspicion. What do you have to hide? I can’t seem to shake off that question.
The ClimateGate scandal has supposedly been debunked. I have no opinion of that claim one way or the other, but even the debunking gives rise to concerns. The Wikipedia entry on the controversy states that “Eight committees investigated the allegations” each finding “no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.” But in their published reports they “called on the scientists to avoid any such allegations in the future” by “ opening up access to their supporting data, processing methods and software, and by promptly honouring freedom of information requests.” But evidence of only one or all of these activities show, if not fraud, certainly scientific misconduct. This is like being found not guilty of robbing that bank because you were busy knocking over a liquor store. Not exactly glowing praise.
There was much discussion of “calibration of data” and how that shows that the models are indeed more accurate than previously thought and the much balley-hooed “hiatus” didn’t really exist. Now, I have some experience in metrology and I have calibrated many measuring devices in my day. I have no idea how to go about calibrating data. We can adjust the data to, say, remove an unwanted bias (usually the effect of improperly calibrated test equipment), but how does one calibrate the data?
For example, there were two period of cooling missing from the models. The one in the 70s and 80s was explained away by the presence of aerosols in the atmosphere. That phenomenon not being available for the latter period, the data was just “found” to be wrong. Excuse my skepticism but — how convenient!
I searched this article and the cited articles and could find no hint to the meaning of data calibration. Indeed, deriving the definition from the context of the articles, one could very much define “calibration of data” to mean “we fiddled with the data until it came out correct.” Correct in this case meaning “finally showed some warming” because, once warming appeared, no more adjustment was needed. Again, how convenient.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that the Earth is in an extended warming cycle. After all, we are still pulling out of the last ice age. If the historic record is any indication, we have quite a bit of additional warming to expect over the next 40 thousand years (give or take).
Nor do I deny that human activity could be a minor contributing factor, though it occurs to me that such activity could just as well lead to cooling (the aerosol effect) as warming. It’s just that I can hardly read anything by a global warming alarmist without running into those little points, those little questions, those little red flags that set off my BS detector. I’ve mentioned only some. Someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
The claim, however, that carbon dioxide will having a devastating effect on all life is a stretch. Yes, it is a hot house gas, but such a weak one that even if the amount reached 500ppm (the amount often quoted as a “point of no return” threshold), the effect on the Earth would be minimal.
The Earth, and its thin layer of life, has seen amounts of carbon dioxide in the thousands per million. Life endured. No, life thrived during such times.
This is where the major points of skepticism lay, in the supposedly dire consequences of a trivial increase of CO2.
Historically speaking, the Earth is currently in a period where carbon dioxide and oxygen are at minimum levels. Is no one worried about the low levels of oxygen? Where do we get oxygen? From CO2.
An increase in CO2 will, to some extent, contribute to shorter, milder winters and longer, warmer summers — plant Nirvana. In addition, CO2 directly effects plants, helping them grow faster and larger. Those plants, in turn, takes the CO2 and convert it into oxygen. As far as I can see, except for a very small number of people who own beach property, the Earth growing warmer is a great benefit to all life.